In Hideo Kojima’s Twitter bio, he claims 70% of his body is made of movies. Presumably, the other 30% is comprised of other types of popular culture (and maybe some nanomachines.)
Compared to the Metal Gear series, which proudly wore its Hollywood action movie influences on its sleeve, his upcoming game Death Stranding seems wholly alien and unfamiliar.
After obsessively scrubbing through Death Stranding’s cryptic trailers, though, certain themes start to become apparent. The same could be said about staring at a Rorschach test too long, but in some cases, Kojima’s own social media acts as a paper trail to support our theories.
Whether you’re looking for clues to Death Stranding’s inevitably convoluted plot, or just trying to keep yourself entertained until Kojima’s latest masterpiece finally comes out, here are some recommendations.
Kojima’s such a fan of Breaking Bad that he’s said in interviews he was “depressed” that he didn’t think of it. But what does a show about a science teacher cooking meth have to do with Death Stranding? Chemistry, specifically the scientific principle of chirality.
Walter White explains chirality in Breaking Bad’s second episode:
“Just as your left hand and your right hand are mirror images of one another, identical and yet opposite, so, too, organic compounds can exist as mirror-image forms of one another all the way down at the molecular level.”
Breaking Bad certainly didn’t invent chirality or chemistry, but between Kojima’s love of the series, Death Stranding’s mentions of chiral allergies and chiralium density, and those ubiquitous phantom handprints, a refresher course from Walter White might not hurt right now.
The Martian and The Revenant
Though The Martian and The Revenant aren’t officially connected, they make an interesting diptych. Both films were released in 2015, and focus on men surviving alone against the elements. The Revenant is set in the past, telling a bitter and gruesome revenge story against the backdrop of frigid winter in the American Midwest.
Meanwhile, The Martian is set in the near future, telling a hopeful and uplifting tale of perseverance on another planet. Never mind the fact that Norman Reedus’ character in Death Stranding looks like a kitbash of both films’ protagonists, Kojima himself has Tweeted about the similarities between these two movies.
The Man Who Turned Into a Stick
The works of Japanese playwright and novelist Kobo Abe have been an influence on Kojima in the past (you’ll never guess what game “The Box Man” helped inspire) and Kojima has mentioned Abe’s 1957 surrealist play “The Man Who Turned into a Stick” when explaining Death Stranding.
What’s interesting is that The Man Who Turned Into a Stick is the final part of a trilogy of one-act plays. The first play, The Suitcase, is said to represent birth. The second, The Cliff of Time, is about life itself, and the one about the Stick? It’s about death, of course.
The Horror Manga of Junji Ito
There’s a long list of reasons to be angry that Silent Hills was cancelled, but near the top should definitely be that we were robbed of Junji Ito’s involvement. It’s still possible he has a role in making Death Stranding, but if nothing else, his handprints are literally all over it.
For example, his manga Gyo (literally “fish”) is all about ocean life growing legs and terrorizing everyone on land. The crabs and fish in Death Stranding might be a little less ambular, but they’re pretty creepy nonetheless.
It’s easy to write off the Netflix original series Dark as a mature, German version of Stranger Things, but there’s a lot more going on. Gradually unraveling the intertwining storylines of Dark’s massive cast of characters results in some “ah-ha!” moments akin to those in a Kojima game.
Between the somber tone, a brooding soundtrack, and some striking visual similarities, Dark makes an excellent companion to Death Stranding.
Kurt Vonnegut’s classic quasi-autobiographical anti-war science fiction novel is, among other things, about the bombing of Dresden and a man who becomes “unstuck in time.” It might seem like a far cry from the upcoming open-world PlayStation 4 game where the guy from The Walking Dead has to protect a baby from ghosts, but Slaughterhouse-Five is very much a book about death.
Plus, Kojima tweeted about the movie adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five a week after Death Stranding’s second trailer debuted. You know, the one that appears to be set in a bombed-out city during World War II. So it goes.
Mozart in Mirrorshades
A 1985 short story by Bruce Sterling and Bruce Shiner, Mozart In Mirrorshades describes people of the future using time travel to colonize the past, mining it for fossil fuels and other finite resources. Doing so doesn’t affect their future as much as it creates an alternate future, while ruining someone else’s past.
The sight of Mads Mikkelsen’s character outfitted in modern military gear, ordering around soldiers of the past is especially reminiscent of this bleak scenario. The story can be found in Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, which Sterling edited, along with some other excellent science fiction short stories.
Another great piece of fiction that tangentially involves vague and ambiguous time manipulation is William Gibson’s most recent novel, The Peripheral, which was influenced by Mozart in Mirrorshades. In addition to trippy time stuff, it also involves a major ecological disaster, which is definitely a theme in Death Stranding in some way.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (Original Series) and The End of Evangelion
It’s hard to pinpoint one piece of Death Stranding that’s distinctly reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion, especially without spoiling the latter, but they clearly crawled out of the same primordial soup.
In particular, End of Evangelion, the movie, has some similarly haunting and surreal imagery. If you’ve never watched this watershed apocalyptic Judeo-Christian coming-of-age mecha anime, and you enjoy the kind of existential gutpunch mindf*** Death Stranding looks to offer, you should definitely get on that.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Though the setting is much more rooted in fantasy, Hayao Miyazaki’s distant post-apocalyptic epic Nausicaä also deals with an earth ravaged by ecological disasters, as well as an abundance of arthropods and towering Kaiju-like figures.
Animator Hideaki Anno worked on Nausicaä before directing Evangelion, but later revisited Nausicaä’s “God Warrior” monster in a live-action short that Studio Ghibli produced.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi magnum opus is Hideo Kojima’s favorite movie ever. Between the guys in spacesuits, the baby, and the mysterious forces of time and space, 2001’s relationship with Death Stranding is readily apparent.
If nothing else, it’s one of the most important, influential, and heavily referenced films of the twentieth century, so everyone should see it.
Max Scoville is a host and producer for IGN. His body is only 60% made of movies; the other 40% is guts, black stuff, and about fifty Slim-Jims. You can follow him on Twitter @MaxScoville